Monday, December 29, 2003

silliman on the line

I like this bit of musing on the poetic line. Ron Silliman says, "[I]t is poetry that has recognized & acknowledged that, even prior to the invention of writing, the line is implicit in all language – without it, even an individual spoken word would lack beginning, middle & end. One might well argue that poetry is precisely that medium which foregrounds the presence of the line in language, even if it does so with no great consensus as to what a line might be." He then goes on to discuss Marianne Moore's line, calling her work essentially prose. What, he asks, is she doing when she breaks her writing into lines?

If you want Moore go over to Silliman's Blog. Me, I'm still swirling around the line being "implicit in all language", the idea that "without it even an individual spoken word would lack beginning, middle & end." What the hell is he talking about?

In From the Country of Eight Islands Hioraki Sato gives the English versions of the haiku one line only. The book's other editor-translator, Burton Watson, gives us English versions with the more familiar short-longer-short lines (conventionally 5-7-5 syllable lines). I find I prefer the 3 line haiku. The poem is so brief the visual delay of the line break allows the poem to unfold more deliberately, parts saying things to the other parts. A single line is relatively sudden. The difference is interesting, but not dramatic. Take away the spacesbetweenthewords and what happens? Something dramatic? Not really. You get used to it. As I said in an earlier post, "I want a line to justify itself." This implies that I think there are lines that don't. I'm most dubious of the ultra skinny line where one word gets a line all to itself. A word is already a lone object (much more than a line, anyway) so, it seems to me, making it stand by itself forces on it an extra weight, a weight that it must be a strong word to carry. If the word is most important as a part of the poem's whole, the word being communitarian rather than individualist, standing the word out there by itself calls the larger piece into question. There are poems that want you to spend time on the words as individuals, as in the Aram Saroyan here or some of the Clark Coolidge poems here (scroll to the bottom of the page). In the cases of Coolidge and Saroyan part of what the poet wants to say is that words atomize, become separated like leaves from the context of tree or other leaves. A word broken apart retains space one may explore.

Justification? Sufficient?

I get the feeling some poets, especially those new to poetry, break writing into lines in order to make their work look like a poem. Several years ago I worked on a community college literary magazine. The faculty advisor was put off by one of the poems I thought very nice. When I read the poem aloud he agreed it was better than he'd thought it, having been put off primarily by the poet's use of the very short line. Because the poem was a series of transformations I thought the short line acceptable. The individual lines, yes, often did not quite justify themselves. The piece worked as a whole, I thought, considering its theme and the fact that we were editing a community college magazine part of the mission of which was to build beginning writers.

Thoughts on the line ... I think I'm not saying the same thing Silliman's saying.

Could he and I achieve "consensus as to what a line might be"? Consider this talk on the way to failure.

Sunday, December 28, 2003


Transgender men fascinate me. Sorta mystified, sorta intrigued, there's one who lives nearby, Loren Cameron, whose book of photographs I bought a few years ago, on whom I have a little crush. I see him walking his pansy little dog and I think, Boy, you need a big husky wolfy thing. I still think Loren's cute as the dickens, as a man. But, get this, I still lapse into thinking (or using) female pronouns when thinking about Loren. It's not like I look at Loren and think, Hot Chick. No indeed. I look at Loren and think, Cute guy. So why would I think "she"? Do I call boys "girlfriend" and "oh look at her"? Only when I'm being really campy, which is totally rare cuz I'm not good at it. And it's not like I know Loren personally, never saw him before he had the beard and bald dome. So it's not like I have to train myself against ingrained habit.

Anyway. This post got started after I followed a link to Jasper's exasperation about not being taken for a man, or rather, for being almost taken for a man. Because he doesn't immediately describe himself, and I know there are a lot of girls who have short hair and wear jeans, I wondered what made the women he talks about assume he's male. Facial hair? Seems not, as he yearns after the validating beard. Tall? Says that in there somewhere. Baggy pants? Dunno. Doesn't say how he's dressed. Jasper has a boyfriend, Adam, of whom Jas says, he has "a beautiful swish."

Saturday, December 27, 2003

may I be a victim too please

The Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code is a real phenomenon. The hold list at the Berkeley Public Library has had about 150 people on it for months. As of today there are 144 holds, (check here if you want to see the current number). Given that a book is checked out for three weeks, and the library owns 33 copies of the Code the book has already gone through the hands of a lot of people.

SFGate has an article about the supposed Jesus controversy the book has stoked. The article has some quotes typical of conservative victimology. You know, the big & powerful are victims of "the last acceptable prejudice." Boo-hoo, boo-hoo, I'm now wringing my handkerchief of its thousand captured tears. If I may quote another Catholic in the same article: "sheer delusion." Because the novel (a work of fiction, remember those?) posits some ideas about the life of Jesus quite counter to the Church-approved story these "pitiful adherents" (says one) feel all put-upon. Look, if you have the Truth on your side, what have you got to worry about? Especially if besides Truth you have 2 billion compatriots, wealth in the billions of dollars (most of it in property -- most of that untaxed), hundreds of thousands (millions?) who work full time spreading your ideology ... Boy, next we're going to weep for Coca Cola, poor put-upon corporation wilting before the thuggery of those damn villains who think carbonated sugar water is overpriced & unhealthy. Unjust! Prejudice! Cornsyrupophobes! Carbonation-haters!

When the churches stop trying to destroy my family, I'll revisit the possibility of sympathy for them. Until then? We'll leave our sympathies in their nice shrink-wrap.

Thursday, December 25, 2003


from The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell:
"The world is full of ... mutually contending bands: totem-, flag-, and party-worshippers. Even the so-called Christian nations -- which are supposed to be following a 'World' Redeemer -- are better known to history for their colonial barbarity and internecine strife than for any practical display of that unconditioned love ... which was taught by their professed supreme Lord ..."

That's just so darn snarky.

"'Love your enemies, do good to them ... Give to every man that asketh of thee ... [A]s ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise ... Be ye ... merciful ...'"

Or, you know, punish them. There's lots in the Bible about punishing.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

change mind

Give me a day off work and I go into a funk. What say. Maybe I need a clock on the head with a rolled up movie screen. Without the audience I s'pose I'd miss half the experience, eh?

Aak! Fluffy cat bringing rain in on his back, jumps into my lap. I have a towel beside the desk for just such an incident but he's in my lap before I think. He is, however, the skittish type and when I go, "Aak!" he gives me a stunned look and exits.

Here I was telling myself I wasn't going to be using the blog for the personal drizzle but Kent's off at work this chilly wet Xmas eve and I ... I ... oh hush ... Now Sundy, the short hair, is myowing at me to play, very insistent. He even comes up to the chair and hooks me with his claws, play now play now play now. Lookin' silly there, kit, with the shoelace wrapped around your middle. Kent tied a black feather to the end of the string, the string being tied to an arm-long bamboo. Sundy thrills to hunting this feather. Such jumps we haven't seen in months. But, y'know, I don't always want to play.

After work last evening (& after yoga class at the Y) I stopped in at Comic Relief to see if Rory was around. Big collection of comics, I said. Any ideas?

You'd get best value if you can donate them and get a tax write-off. Book value? Sure. On paper looks like money. But you won't get book value thru e-bay, certainly a comic store couldn't afford to buy at top price, how would they make anything on the sale? Only a small fraction of the collection will have a ready buyer. If we do donate the whole bit I suppose Rory's right that we ought to go through the boxes and make sure we're not just dumping stuff we'll have regrets about losing. Ugh. But who'd want a fat donation of comics? Literacy Volunteers. Children's Hospital. One would have to make sure the Undergrounds don't get in the kiddie batch. Getting a tax write-off means making enough money to itemize, and determining the hassle in itself is worth it. I hate the idea of organizing my life around the desire to avoid taxes. I figure if I have so much money I'm paying big money in taxes I have so much money worrying is superfluous. I've always been poor. Not on-the-street poor, not deep-in-debt poor. But keep-your-expenses-low poor? Yes yes.

Maybe we can get up to Sebastopol this weekend and do more sorting and tossing (let's not talk about the oh-no-we-can't-throw-away-thats) ... I don't want to do this in the rain. Rain depresses me. Going through old stuff depresses me. Man, gravity is thick where I live.

Hey, the brothers are playing with each other. 'Bout time they amused themselves. Cats.

Do I need a cup of coffee?

Tuesday, December 23, 2003


I got letters from the Martins, Michael & Jack (no relation, shared last name purely coincidental, really, I asssure you), and I asked each if I could excerpt from their letters. Both said NO. Guess that's what comes of them being writers and such. Yvo and Schuyler aren't writers. (OK, Schuyler is a scientist and writes for papers for publication, but that's diff, yeah?)

Mike had written in response to my concerns about soliciting work in my capacity as guest poetry editor -- particularly the thought that one might ask a writer one admires to cough up some poems only to dislike the poems thus coughed. Does one reject the poems? Mike told me about a couple exchanges he's had with writers, him being ed of Hogtown Creek Review an' all. I thought editors don't talk enough about hurting people's feelings so I wanted to post Mike's comments. No, no, says he. What if one of the persons googles "Michael Martin" and "Hogtown Creek Review" and ends up at LuvSet and reads this stuff and feels even worse? I'd already prepped the excerpt, changing all Mike's archy-like "i"s to "I"s. Thing even got posted briefly. Not that I intended it to be posted. I hit the "preview your post" button, not the "publish" button. Somehow publication happened. Such has been corrected. 'Tis well gone now. Gonest goner done gone. Full on. So, you with the feelings, fear not.

Jack's letter included a thorough account of his being clocked on the head by a rolled up movie screen. He teaches high school English, had been using the screen to show some transparencies. When he got hit the class busted up, cracked up, went wild ... all of this sounds more dangerous than the accident ... they laughed a lot. Which was, you know, kinda peculiar, it being possible that Jack had been like hurt and everything. I thought it all read well, the very thoroughness of the account. But I can't post it cuz Jack says he's going to "use" it. Reminds me what Tess Gallagher said about husband Raymond Carver: tell him a story, even if you're a writer yourself, and next you know he's snuck yours into one his own darn stories.


Have a happy this and a merry that and a jolly other thing.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Ishihara Yoshiro

A bio from the back of From the Country of Eight Islands: an anthology of Japanese poetry edited & translated by Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson:

Ishihara Yoshiro (1915-1977) A student of German and a Christian convert, he began to write poetry seriously after his experience as a prisoner of war: captured by the Soviet Army in Manchuria, he spent eight years in Siberia, released only by the general amnesty given at Stalin's death. He began to write at that time, he said, because he wanted to examine what it means to be a human being.

... to examine what it means to be a human being.

From Yoshiro's "Song of the Ringing in the Ear":

When ringing begins in my ears
he is perhaps the man that begins
but when he begins abruptly
there's another man
that begins
and all the other men that revive at a stroke.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Phoebe 2002

In my last post I wrote about a poem by David Trinidad, a poem excerpted from a longer work, Phoebe 2002.

The description of the book by its distributor is worth a read all by itself. "[A] collaborative epic poem/essay [Trinidad collaborated with Lynn Crosbie and Jeffrey Conway, two writers with whom I'm unfamiliar] that zings in and out of the scenes [in the movie All About Eve] and makes a thousand connections within the world of popular culture. Drawing from high and low sources, the poets relate All About Eve to such epics as Paradise Lost, The Faerie Queene, The Iliad and The Odyssey, as well as to other movies (Valley of the Dolls, Rosemary's Baby, Silence of the Lambs) and television shows (Gilligan's Island, The Twilight Zone, Scooby-Doo).~The figure of Bette Davis assumes heroic proportions as she descends into a Dante-esque Inferno (a drunken party) and goes on to do battle with husbands, directors, studio heads and archrival Joan Crawford."

Other excerpts from Phoebe 2002 are on the web. I just found them so I'm going to post links without having actually read them:
excerpt at The Literary Review
excerpt at the Electronic Poetry Review
excerpt at Painted Bride Quarterly

Plus there's a rave review at Rain Taxi. And an interview with Trinidad about the book.

power makeover

I haven't paid much attention to the unholing of Saddam Hussein. If it means the US is pulling out of a stable democratic country now, well, GREAT! If it means we'll have a trial in which reams of information about how he destroyed his country will be revealed to people seeking the truth about the fate of their loved ones, well, I'm all for that. If it means we'll get an Iraqi-side view of the US's relations with the country, well, wouldn't it be interesting? But I ain't sure it means any of that.

Besides, what's there to say that isn't filling up pages already?

I've yet to watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the Bravo channel show about gay fashion & lifestyle consultants doing a makeover on a clueless straight bumpkin. It sounds, at best, cute. But I got a good chuckle out of this photo: Hussein's power makeover

The photo illustrates the Data Lounge gossip columnist's take on press coverage of the great capture. As Mr. Barillas says, "We were treated ... to this memorable New York Post headline describing Saddam's hidden desert orifice as his, "Tiny, Dirty, Airless Hole," and as if we weren't close enough already, we hear Fox News chiming in with: "Coming up: Inside Saddam's Hole." ... We're just glad they cut away from the bedraggled former chieftan's medical examination when they did."

Sunday, December 14, 2003

David Trinidad

One thing I've wanted to do since I started this blog was to link to poems out there on the web that I liked, a sort of guide (for anyone who cares) to my tastes. Good poems, as Garrison Keillor has it. Or What I Like, as Edward Field describes it in his A Geography of American Poetry.

So. Here's one: "Searching for Anne's Grave" by David Trinidad

I've enjoyed Trinidad's work since I first came across it in the anthology Under 35: The New Generation of American Poets (35, an age I'm well past but one which was some years in the future when the anthology came out). I've read his collections, Answer Song, Hand Over Heart:  Poems 1981-1988, and Plasticville.

"Searching for Anne's Grave" is talky, prosey. It's as though we're looking in Trinidad's diary. The language is not ramped up. "I stayed in the // air-conditioned bookstore and chatted with its legendary proprietor ..." Does that sound like language distilled? Pushed to an extreme? Nope. At his most descriptive Trinidad virtually subsides into nouns; describing dinner: "olive tapanade, radishes dipped in salt, melon and // prosciutto, grilled salmon and polenta, fresh blueberries with the / most delicious yogurt/whipped cream topping" ... the modifiers are banal, "most delicious", "fresh". I like that Trinidad goes with this chatty talk, "the most delicious ... topping", "as fate would have it", a ramping down. Not poetic. It's the idea of the New York School. That there is poetry in the offhand, the daily. In gossip. Twisty, fantastic language is not wanted here thanks.

I like the poem collage, and here Trinidad cuts into his life incidents from the life of Anne Sexton (whose grave he & his friends visit during the course of the poem) as well as symbolic readings of the eagle as found in an internet search, among other things.

Formally the writing is broken into four-line stanzas, the lines breaking at about the same length. It doesn't look like Trinidad was counting syllables in order to choose line breaks. Counting stresses? Mm. I don't care about stresses. The lines often break abruptly ("symbol- / izing", "of", "to", "the"), arbitrarily? Merely because a line appeared to be the same length as the preceding? I want a line to justify itself. Is this a piece of language that is interesting as a unit? These lines are so long it's not difficult to find interesting stuff in each. But as units? I find in rereading particular lines I like the lunge from line to line that those abrupt breaks force. Is this really different from the breaks at the left margin one would see in a paragraph of prose?

The poem's first words remain opaque, "While Eve grills Phoebe, while Jeffery took (and passed, I must / say, with flying colors) Lynn’s quiz ..." I presume they make more sense in the context of Phoebe 2002.

I like the stuff in this poem. The eagle stuff, the flowers they buy, Beck, dinner. The language may not be distilled, but the material is. It's almost sludgy there's so much -- names, places, times, memories. I like that the talk is unpretentious, a little fey ("Damon and I were / seemed like such a sign." [DT's ellipsis]), candid, seemingly confessional ("confessional" ... what's the word mean in poetry, really?). It's much more entertaining than a diary entry. More like a carefully composed letter to a pal, perhaps. I like Anne Sexton. She's definitely influenced my poetry. And it's funny. ee cummings in "section E ('Capital "E"' ...", the conversation with the Magic 8 Ball, counting cigarettes. Trinidad is fascinated by symbols ... cigarettes as sex? eagle as intermediary between this world and the next? This is not writing you have to figure out. But it is writing that rewards attention; there is, like I said, a lot of stuff in it. Reread and you'll notice how much you didn't quite notice the first time through.

Saturday, December 13, 2003


from Madge Mucker's Media Maven column:

"Roy Horn, one half of the performing duo of Siegfried & Roy, is recovering in a Los Angeles hospital for wounds inflicted in a mauling by one of his trained tigers. His partner Siegfried Fischbacher says that Horn is doing so well that he might be able to go home to Las Vegas for Christmas. In fact, Horn is breathing on his own and is communicating by written notes. His first words? He wrote a note to partner Siegfried saying: 'It is good to hold your hands.'"

Monday, December 08, 2003


The Mac is in the shop. Rats.

So I'm writing this at work, off the clock thank you. Darnit. I was all up to speed on the blog and feelin' groovy and now the spanner in the works.

Not that there's all that much new or anything. Had to return a digital camera we'd borrowed from a friend. I liked having it. So I bought one. Have taken a picture of Sundy (cat), a picture of Flash (dog), and an "arty" (K said) picture of my hand casting a shadow on the rug. Maybe I'll start reading the instruction manual.

I think I'll go to the gym & lift some weights. hup. ho.

Friday, December 05, 2003

favorite political blogs

Here are a few blogs I visit every day, or The Something Interesting Criterion:

Daily Kos
Kos is a Democratic Party activist. When I first started reading it the blog was more about ideas and fighting back against those crazy rightwingers. Now it's heavy on the party strategizing and presidential polls. Still, there's a lot of intelligence in it and Kos & his correspondences always say something, they don't just throw up a link and say, "Here's something interesting." The kind of thing that often isn't.

The Mighty Atrios
Atrios blogs lots. He's snarky without being bitter and the man adds value to his links. Yeah, once in a while he pulls the "something interesting" link bit, but not so often as to be annoying.

Steve Gilliard
Thinks he knows what he's talking about. Does. Mostly.

Talking Points Memo
A real working journalist.

Silliman's Blog
Tend to disagree with him half the time, but in an at-least-he's-speaking-intelligently-about-something-interesting sort of way. About poetry? Yeah, about poetry.